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Chretien | 1995 Referendum  | 1998 Seperation Ruling | Nunavut | Budget Surplus | Reform Party | The Bloc

With the failure of both Meech Lake and the Charlottetown Accord, the forces of nationalism in Quebec were one again given a boost. The PQ were re-elected and they moved quickly to hold another referendum on separatism. On the Federal scene the Progressive Conservatives were almost completely destroyed and the Liberals were swept back into power with a majority mandate. The rise of two new parties Federally, the Bloc and the Reform Party, marked a seismic shift in Federal politics. The Reform party was a regional protest party from the west and soaked up a considerable amount of former Conservatives while the Bloc was a Quebec separatist party on the Federal level with several ex-Conservatives including Lucien Bouchard.

The new Premier of Quebec Jacques Parizeau, sets October 30, 1995 was the date for the referendum and then begins to work towards setting the stage for the PQ victory. The question that was to be asked was "Do you agree that Québec should become sovereign, after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership, within the scope of the Bill respecting the future of Québec and of the agreement signed on 12 June 1995?"

Bill 1 was intended to be the legal pretext for declaring independence and was debated in the National Assembly in Quebec but was not voted on with the expectation that once the referendum vote was taken then the Bill could be passed and separation officially declared. The strategy that was employed by the PQ was to present the separation process as one which would see a yes vote for sovereignty and then the passage of legislation by the National Assembly to legally give Quebec autonomous status and then re-negotiate a better deal in Confederation with the rest of Canada. They felt that this soft approach to the vote would improve the chances of the yes vote succeeding.

3 weeks before the vote a poll indicated that 28% of the voters who had not yet made up their minds believed that a yes vote would in fact simply mean negotiating a better deal within Confederation. The Federalist side were disturbed about how unclear the actual process and the referendum question actually were.

The Federalist campaign started off with a substantial lead over the sovereigntists but mistakes by Federal spokesmen such as Paul Martin and a comment about crushing sovereigntists began to help the Yes forces. Parizeau brought Lucien Bouchard into the campaign and sympathy for the recent health issues he had suffered help the Yes cause even more. Momentum for the Yes side began to accelerate and even racists remarks referring to true Quebecers as the white race did not slow the build up of support for his cause.


With the lead favouring the Yes side, two weeks before the vote, the Federalist swung into action and held rallies and Prime Minister Chretien made several speeches in support of Canada. Then the single biggest event of the campaign took place on October 27th, just a few days before the vote, when about 100,000 Canadians from all across the country gather in Montreal for a massive Unity Rally which appealed to French Canadians to vote for Canada. The crowd was addressed by Prime Minister Chretien, the leaders of the Federal opposition, Jean Charest, and the leader of the Provincial opposition, Daniel Johnson.

The separatists Parizeau and Bouchard made preparations to declare separation almost immediately and form a Quebec national army and seize fighter aircraft at  military bases in Quebec if a Yes vote was successful. The Federalists responded by suggestion that a legal process would be more complicated then a unilateral declaration of independence and the CF-18 aircraft were taken out of Quebec to avoid a confrontation over them.

Another factor in the process were the Cree people who were overwhelmingly the largest grouping most of Northern Quebec. They refused to be caught up in a separation movement and held their own referendum about remaining in Canada and voted to stay in with a 96.3% majority.

On referendum day the yes vote was heavy in francophone areas but a minority on the West side of Montreal, Northern Quebec and the Eastern Townships. The final results were


No - Federalist

Yes - Separatists

# of Votes






Jacques Parizeau appeared that night before a packed arena of separatists supporters and made a bitter and racists speech which blamed the defeat of separation on big business and non-white French Canadian ethnic groups. He offered his resignation as Premier the next day and it was quickly accepted with Lucien Bouchard stepping into the job to continue the fight. Support for separation quickly dissipated after that and by 2003 they lost power to the Liberals.

By G Scott staff writter,  2012 - - section:eras, subsection Modern Canada